BOSTON — Jon Lester certainly looked refreshed from the extended break.
The left-hander pitched effectively into the seventh inning and Boston’s bullpen did the rest, carrying the Red Sox to a bounce-back 6-2 win over the hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
The victory was Boston’s 10th in 14 games against the Rays this season and it gave the Red Sox a 1½ -game lead over Tampa Bay in the American League East. The Red Sox have been alone in first since May 27.
Lester (9-6) held the Rays to two runs — both coming on homers — and seven hits in 6⅓ innings. He struck out eight without walking a batter. Lester looked sharp from the start, hitting the mid-90s with his fastball in the first inning while striking out two.
Lester, who was just 2-6 with a 6.27 ERA in his previous 11 starts, said it was the best he has felt all season.
“Yeah, I would say being able to command all four pitches,” he said. “I think you can always benefit from extra days. I think there’s times where they’re needed.”
Jose Iglesias had a two-run single and Mike Napoli had two hits and scored two runs for Boston.
Evan Longoria and Wil Myers homered for the Rays, who lost for just the third time in 21 games and had a six-game winning streak snapped.
But the Rays did little else at the plate.
“We just have to do a better job hitting their pitchers.That’s what it comes down to,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “Even last night, we got enough runs to win because we pitched so well. We have to do a better job against their pitching in general.”
On Monday, the Rays beat Boston 3-0 behind Matt Moore’s complete-game, two-hitter.
Roberto Hernandez (5-11) gave up three runs and seven hits in five innings, dropping to 1-7 on the road.
“He did not do badly at all,” Maddon said. “He kept us in the game and gave us a solid chance to win. You can’t be too critical. He gave up three runs in five innings and gave us a legitimate chance to win that game.”
Longoria’s homer, a drive into the seats in left center above the Green Monster, cut the Red Sox’s lead to 3-2 in the sixth, but Boston’s bullpen shut the door.
Matt Thornton retired the only batter he faced. Junichi Tazawa fanned the first three hitters in getting four outs. Koji Uehara worked the ninth in a non-save situation.
The Red Sox put it away with three runs in the eighth — two coming on Iglesias’ single and the other on Stephen Drew’s RBI single.
Lester was given an extra few days rest after the break, with manager John Farrell saying “two extra days would help him” when he made the announcement during the weekend. It showed from the start, with Lester striking out the game’s first hitter — Desmond Jennings — with a 95 mph fastball. He got Jennings on a 94 mph heater in the fifth.
“I think you have three or four days of not throwing and getting a nice little physical break, it’s always nice,” the 29-year old Lester said.
Farrell could see it from the beginning.
“Just the way Jon came out of the bullpen right from the start, very strong — seems like the rest did him some good,” Farrell said. “Lots of power on his fastball from the start.”
NOTES: Boston RHP Clay Buchholz, who got a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews in Florida on Monday, said he hopes to be ready to make “four or five starts” later in the year. “There’s no timeline on it,” Buchholz said before the game. “I’m going to go as quick as I can at the comfort level that he told me to go at.” … Rays RHP Alex Cobb, struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of the Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer on June 15, was scheduled to make his first rehab start for Class A Charlotte on Tuesday. … Numerous reports had Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia and the club agreeing to a seven-year, $100-million contract extension. “It’s not official or anything,” he told the media. “The club will announce that. But it’s not going to change who I am or my role with this team. My job is to go out there and try to help us win a game every day and try to do all I can to make that happen.” … Boston CF Jacoby Ellsbury had the day off. … With a scoring change, CF Shane Victorino became the first Red Sox player to steal home since Ryan Kalish on Oct. 3, 2010, also on a double steal. … Rays SS Yunel Escobar, who set a club record on Monday with his 53rd straight errorless game at short, was charged with a throwing error in the eighth.